Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The 2002 stage musical adaptation expands the score with several other fun Sherman brothers tunes. Hale Centre Theatre's production pulls out all the stops, with colorful creative elements, a top-notch cast, and an excellent and imaginative life-size version of the title character that moves, floats, spins, and even takes flight. It's a charming, humorous and magical musical adventure for children young and old.
With just a few small changes, the stage script by Jeremey Sams and Ray Roderick follows the film screenplay fairly closely. Caractacus Potts is a widowed father of two who is down on his luck but trying to make a living from the imaginative inventions he creates. He finds a way to purchase the former champion Grand Prix car that his children are enamored with and, using his inventive skills, spiffs it up with some special abilities. But when the toy-loving, Vulgarian man-boy Baron Bomburst hears of the special car, he wants it for his own and he sends his trusted but bumbling spies Boris and Goran to get the car, no matter what.
Caractacus, his two children, and his father, along with the delightful Truly Scrumptious, who takes a shine to Caractacus and his kids, find themselves pulled into a thrilling adventure to hold onto their beloved car that takes them to the land of Vulgaria, where they discover that children are banned and are always at risk of being snatched away by the frightening and evil Childcatcher.
While there are some elements of the plot that border on being scary, the stage musical plays up the humor and charming elements of the story so even small children won't be too frightened. However, while the plot is fairly easy to follow, the stage script doesn't clarify the somewhat confusing parts of the story, especially the opening sequence, so you may be scratching your head a few times. Also, some of the added songs for the theatrical version are forgettable. Fortunately, most of the Sherman brothers songs are hummable, toe-tapping tunes you won't forget and even the bad characters in the show have their lovable sides, so you can just sit back and be entertained by the fun characters, the crazy story, and the enjoyable score.
Director Cambrian James ensures the humor and wit of the story and the whimsical characters take center stage. His choreography includes many upbeat steps, including a fun samba, that are well danced by the cast and ensemble. Rob Stuart infuses Caractacus with a combination of charm, poignancy, joy and quirkiness, but he also clearly projects the image of a loving father who doesn't want to let his children down. Stuart's rich and deep singing voice turns his solo "Hushabye Mountain" into a beautiful and moving lullaby. Amanda Valenzuela's Truly Scrumptious may appear all prim and proper on the outside, but underneath she has a sense for adventure and a strong connection to Caractacus and his two children. Valenzuela's singing voice is crystal clear and absolutely lovely.
As the Potts children Jeremy and Jemima, Bennett Smith and Ellie Sachs are completely endearing, with very good English accents, easily holding their own against the adult actors in the cast. Hale favorite Matthew R. Harris is a charming hoot and virtually unrecognizable as Grandpa Potts. Raymond Barcelo and Alaina Beauloye are incredibly fun as the childlike Baron and the sassy and sexy Baroness. Andrew Stachurski and Allan DeWitt are hilarious crowd pleasers as the bumbling Vulgarian spies Boris and Goran. Rounding out the cast, Benjamin Harris is engaging and full of joy as the Toymaker, and Daniel Lopez projects just the right amount of fear inducing elements as the scary Childcatcher.
Brian Daily's whimsical scenic pieces, the imaginative prop designs from McKenna Carpenter and Monica Christiansen, and the winning projections from Jessica Ottley quickly whisk us from one location to the next with designs that feature both realistic and fantasy-filled elements. Daily's design for Chitty is simply superb: The full-scale car glides across the stage with many hidden components that are infused with fantasy and add to the fun. Lincoln Wright's music direction derives warm, lovely notes from the excellent cast. Tia Hawkes' costumes are gorgeous and full of detailed period touches, and Tim Dietlein's lighting design immerses the audience in the fantastical worlds of the story.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang may not be a perfect musical, as there are some shortcomings in the script and some of the songs added for the stage version aren't quite as good as the infectious title tune, but it is still a fun, fantasy-filled, family-friendly show. With a perfect cast, solid direction, imaginative creative elements, and a simply sensational version of Chitty, Hale Centre Theatre's production is a truly scrumptious show that will most likely tug at your heart and also put a big smile on your face.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, through August 17, 2019, at The Hale Centre Theatre , 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.haletheatrearizona.com or call 480-497-1181
Directed and choreographed by Cambrian James